Respected magistrate hangs up his robes but will continue his research at
Allan Butcher was known as one of the top death-penalty attorneys in Texas
and an advocate for poor criminal defendants when he became a magistrate
quietly working away in the basement courtroom at the courthouse a decade
His switch from writing appeals for death row inmates to simply approving
pleas on routine legal matters may have bewildered others, but it made
sense to Butcher, who said the job gave him time to continue his research
"Most lawyers like the drama of the courtroom. I like the solitude of the
library," Butcher said.
Butcher, however, hung up his robes Friday after changes in the schedule
forced him to work 5 days a week, every week. That made it harder to
continue his research, especially into the courts indigent-defense system.
"When I took the job, we worked 7 days on and had 7 days off," Butcher
said. "That gave me a large block of time every other week to devote to my
A 5-member judicial committee has screened about 35 applicants for the
magistrate's job and picked 6 finalists, who were interviewed Friday. The
county's 19 criminal court judges will make the final selection this week.
By the time his successor takes the bench, Butcher plans to be back in his
office at the University of Texas at Arlington, where he will continue
researching the death penalty, indigency and judicial selection issues
that have become synonymous with his name.
Butcher had 3 careers before becoming a lawyer more than 30 years ago, and
he tried a few cases before finding his niche as an appellate attorney.
There, he earned a statewide reputation after winning reversals on 1/2 of
the 18 death penalty cases he appealed.
"He was probably the leading appellate lawyer that judges would use in
death-penalty cases," said state District Judge George Gallagher, who
practiced law with Butcher for 13 years. "He was considered the best
because of his thoroughness and knowledge of the law."
Butcher gave his best to all his clients, not just those facing the death
penalty, Gallagher said.
He recalled a case in which a defendant tried on a felony charge was
convicted of a misdemeanor. Still, Butcher appealed the case on the
grounds that the judge should have given the jury a legal definition of
It took a year and a half before the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
agreed. Even though the court reversed itself 6 years later, Butcher
continues to fight for his clients and the law, Gallagher said.
"What struck me about this case is that it was really no big deal as far
as the severity of the offense," Gallagher said. "But Allan seized on what
he thought was a gap in the law and tried to change it."
Butcher gives the same careful attention to the hundreds of defendants
with whom he interacts only briefly, his staff say.
"He treats them as individuals," court coordinator Rita Dickerson said.
"He tries to convey how important it is for them to get an attorney in
time to do them some good but to get someone they're comfortable working
Dickerson said Butcher is equally attentive to the police officers who
bring him search and arrest warrants to sign.
Butcher, a professor emeritus at UT-Arlington, acknowledges that his
teaching side kicks in when hes trying to ensure that officers include
details needed for him to sign the warrants.
"I'm the person between the police who want to search and the civilian's
right to privacy," he said. "The officer has to convince me he has the
reason to do it. I like to think that Im rigorous yet sensitive to the
rights of the defendant."
For the near future, Butcher will return to his research on indigent
defense, which already has improved poor defendants access to attorneys
throughout the state.
He'll also continue trying to find ways to ensure that the death penalty
is imposed in a fair and consistent way, although he no longer is sure
that is possible.
"I'm not ready to retire," Butcher said.
(source: Fort Worth Star-Telegram)
DA seeks death penalty for Brewer
Jury selection in the long-awaited sentencing of convicted killer Brent
Ray Brewer is on pace to conclude in 2 weeks, Randall County District
Court officials say.
There was no action in court Monday, which marked the 4th week into jury
selection. Attorneys are expected to resume the individual questioning of
potential jurors Aug. 3, District Clerk Jo Carter said.
They began with a pool of nearly 200 potential jurors on June 22.
Prosecutors hope to begin taking testimony from witnesses Aug. 10, court
Randall County Criminal District Attorney James Farren is seeking the
death penalty for Brewer a 2nd time.
Once seated, jurors won't have to weigh Brewer's guilt or innocence.
Another Randall County jury already did that, convicting the 39-year-old
of the April 26, 1990, stabbing death of Robert Laminack, 66.
At issue this time is whether he will have to pay with his own life.
Authorities have long held that Brewer and a companion approached
Laminack, the owner of Amarillo Floor Co., outside his South Western
Street business in Amarillo and asked for a ride to the Salvation Army. On
the way, Brewer stabbed Laminack to death and made off with his wallet,
A Randall County jury in 1991 found Brewer guilty of capital murder and
sentenced him to death.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the sentence in April 2007, finding that
the lower court didn't instruct the jury to consider his mental history.
Kristie Lynn Nystrom, 41, is serving a life sentence after pleading guilty
to a capital murder charge in the case.
She was on the Randall County jail roster Monday and may be called to
testify. Brewer is represented by Anthony Odiorne, a court-appointed
lawyer from Lubbock.
Attorneys chose to question jurors one-by-one, a process that can be time
consuming but ultimately prove more thorough.
Visiting District Judge Quay Parker has presided over jury selection so
far, but 47th District Judge Hal Miner will oversee testimony during the
(source: Amarillo Globe-News)